The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is a beautiful small bird of prey that lives on all six Dutch Caribbean Islands. It is often referred to as the “Sparrow Hawk” because it is one of the smallest birds of prey. Locally it is known as Killy Killy – the name refers to the rapid sound the bird makes when excited or upset.
The American Kestrel is one of the few raptors where the male and female have a different plumage. Males have blue-grey wings, a blue-grey head with a reddish crown and a rusty red back. Females have rusty brown wings and back with fine dark streaks. Both the male and female have a whitish face with two vertical black stripes.
You will often see the American Kestrel perched high in a tree or atop a cactus, from where it searches for prey. It also hunts by hovering above the ground, its long pointed wings beating fast while it scans the ground for insects, lizards and small rodents. It then swoops down to catch its prey with its feet. The kestrel is itself preyed on by larger raptors, notably the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).
American Kestrels breed on all of the Dutch Caribbean Islands. The breeding season begins at the onset of spring, and once the female has chosen her male companion, the birds will stay monogamous during the breeding season. They typically build a nest in a tree or cliff cavity. The female lays 4 to 5 eggs and incubates them while the male brings her food. Once the chicks fledge after about 30 days, they often stay with the parents for a few more weeks.
American Kestrels are listed in Appendix II of CITES, meaning that international trade in the species is carefully regulated.
Image by B.S. and R.D. Kirkby